Back in 2008, I heard about a young Palestinian named Ibrahim Abu Jayyab, who made campaign calls to the U.S. urging Americans to vote for Obama, who he thought would help the Palestinian cause if he became president. When I interviewed Obama in Indianapolis that year, I told him about Ibrahim, and asked him how, if elected, he might repay youth like Ibrahim who advocated on his behalf and who sought his help.
Not prepared to answer such a specific question, especially one calling into question the U.S.’s long-standing policy of blind support for Israel, Obama responded vaguely, talking about how the U.S. needs to be a beacon of hope for young people all around the world.
Four years later, Obama is vowing to veto the Palestinians’ bid for membership in the United Nations, a move that will no doubt please the Israelis but be received by the Palestinians (and much of the Arab world, for that matter) as a slap in the face. (Here’s a great article that summarizes the issue.)
The president has not lived up to his own goals and many people’s expectations in regard to the Palestinian plight. He’s backtracked on moderate statements, let Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu drive the discussion, and refused to stand up to the Israel lobby in America.
Though Obama didn’t respond to my question three years ago, his planned veto provides a clear answer. If I’m disappointed by Obama’s response, I can only imagine how dissatisfied Ibrahim must be.
As the terrorist attacks unfolded in Norway but before their origins were fully known, many assumed that the perpetrator was a Muslim. To everyone’s surprise, the terrorist wasn’t Muslim, but rather a blond, Christian, anti-Muslim extremist, Anders Behring Breivik.
Immediately after the attacks, American anti-Muslim activists (like those I mentioned in Wednesday’s post) frantically distanced themselves from Breivik. Pamela Geller, who was referenced positively in Breivik’s manifesto, dismissed Breivik as a crazy man without an ideology—all this despite Breivik’s planned and methodical killing inspired by his 1,500 page manifesto.
Stephen Colbert did a great segment about the shock of Breivik’s identity. “The point is, this monster may not be Muslim, but his heinous acts are indisputably Musl-ish. And we must not let his Islam-esque atrocity divert our attention from the terrible people he reminds us of.” See the video below.
Breivik strongly identified himself as a Christian, and the right-wing news media in America was disturbed by this fact. Jon Stewart did a great segment highlighting the hypocrisy of FOX News’ concerns. Here’s a few that Jon brings up in his piece:
Laura Ingram: “The idea that [Breivik] represents any mainstream or even fringe sentiment in the Christian community is ridiculous.”
Bill O’Reilly: “Breivik is not a Christian. That’s impossible. No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder. … They call him a Christian because he says he is?”
Stewart’s reaction: “Now obviously I would have a little more sympathy for the FOX rapid response team’s nuanced concerns if their plea to distinguish violence proclaimed in the name of a religion from the practitioners and tenets of said religion were applied to more than let’s say one religion.”
As Stewart points out, the FOX News Christians are trying to make the same argument about Breivik that Muslims have been trying to make about Muslim terrorist for the last ten years. Who knew that FOX would be so quick to cling to an argument they’ve been trying to break apart for a decade. Watch the clip below, and enjoy.
*In this series, and on my blog more generally, I’ve criticized the right-wing media and the Republican party. This is not because of my own partisan views. I do consider myself a liberal, but because of many conservatives’ choice to embrace Islamophobia and further spread it. Except for New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has been the lone conservative voice to call out the ridiculousness of anti-Muslim and anti-sharia rhetoric, no conservative has asked their fellow party members to embrace sanity in the midst of the fear mongering. Democrats haven’t been much better and have generally distanced themselves from the discussion. Though many have openly and strongly countered the Islamophobic rhetoric, they need to do a better job of making their opinions heard to the general public, not those who read op-eds in liberal websites and news outlets. The more liberal cable news programs have done a great job responding to the hysteria, but they tend to preach to the choir, leaving the often-misinformed Americans who only get their news from FOX to maintain their mistaken beliefs. Both parties must do better at fighting Islamophobia and encourage one another to stop making Muslims political pawns.
The terror attacks in Norway occurred on foreign soil, but they have a disturbing connection to our own country and those who perpetuate fear of Islam here.
To understand the link, we need to look no further than Anders Behring Breivik’s anti-Muslim 1,500 page manifesto, which cites a number of leaders active in the Islamophobia campaign in America and uses their ideology to shape his. The New York Times did a great piece about anti-Muslim thought in the U.S. and its role in the attacks.
I’ve written before only briefly about some of the self-defined freedom-fighters in Breivik’s manifesto, so I’d like to provide a bit more information about them here.
55 citations: Robert Spencer
“Well this is the politically correct falsehood that is taught every where that Islam is a religion of peace that’s been hijacked. Islam is actually unique among the religions of the world in having a developed doctrine, theology, and legal system that mandates
After it came out that Spencer was cited throughout Breivik’s manifesto, NBC Nightly News did this segment about American Islamophobes, particularly Spencer:
1 reference: Pamela Geller
“This mosque is offensive, humiliating, it’s demeaning to the 3,000 innocent victims that lost their lives. Without Islam, this attack would never have happened.”
In his manifesto, Breivik commented on Geller’s good character, in addition to referencing her blog 11 times. Geller made a name for herself last summer as she led the campaign against the Park 51 Islamic Center in Manhattan. Also a leader of Stop Islamization of America (there is also a European sister organization) and a frequent FOX contributor, she is planning an anti-Muslim protest on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. She constantly claims that she is not against Muslims, only against Islam, “the ideology that inspired these jihadist attacks.” See both quotes in this video.
Though I hate giving her site more hits, you should also check out her blog Atlas Shrugs.
15 citations: Walid Shoebat
“All Islamist organizations in America should be the number one enemy—all of them.”
The Department of Justice has hired Walid Shoebat, a self-proclaimed former Muslim terrorist and Christian convert, to educate law enforcement about Islam. He is also a
frequent speaker at churches, universities, and on cable news shows. Recently, CNN exposed Shoebat as a bigot and fraud—there is no record of the terrorist attack he claims to have committed.
Shoebat’s tactic—claiming to be a former Muslim—is a smart one. If people ask him how he knows Islam is evil, he can say, ‘Trust me! I know! I was Muslim’ and leave it at that.
“Believe what the radicals are saying because it’s the radicals that matter.”
“I come from the Middle East, I was born and raised there, I walk into a grocery store in Arlington, Virginia and speak Arabic and hear what they’re saying and understand it. … So when I speak about certain things about the Middle East or the religion itself… I hope
that you would give me enough credit to know that what I’m talking about in warning what’s coming to the United States will be at least considered as someone who comes from the Middle East and understands the culture and can read the Qur’an in Arabic … as much as Osama bin Laden can.” (The grammatical errors and run-ons are Gabriel’s quote.)
The leader of a group called ACT! For America, Gabriel claims to have grown up around hostile Muslims in Lebanon, giving her that “trust me” credential as well. Also considered an ‘expert’ by the cable shows that features her, she claims that Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government. Read a major New York Times article about her here, and watch the CNN interview in which she made the above comments.
Other American Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney, David Horowitz, and Daniel Pipes were also cited by Breivik. All these anti-Muslim activists (most of whom lack any credentials to be speaking authoritatively about Islam) are not simply fringe figures, leading fringe thought groups. Thanks to FOX News’ willingness to give these people a voice, their ideas have become more mainstream in the past year particularly.
It is frightening to think that the anti-Muslim ideology that drove Breivik to attack in Norway is growing up and being nurtured right here in America.
Only Breivik is responsible for his violent actions. But people like Spencer, Geller, Shoebat, and Gabriel—those with a loud and powerful voices—cannot disregard their influence, especially when they are spewing hate and targeting a particular group. These bloggers, writers, and talking-heads want influence, want to be heard. So they cannot be surprised when someone takes their message and acts on it. Though these anti-Muslim leaders don’t advocate violence and condemned it after the Norway attacks, they don’t provide an alternative method to combat the problem of Islamic fundamentalism they see. And while they don’t condone Breivik’s methods, they sympathize with his message and mission. (Doesn’t this posture sound a lot like the one they accuse Hamas-sympathizing Muslims of?)
As Dr. Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer and forensic psychiatrist said in the New York Times article I mentioned earlier, “rhetoric is not cost-free.” We should have learned this after Gabby Giffords was shot last year, during a time in which political partisanship was at its peak in America. Let’s hope these anti-Muslim leaders change their tone and rethink their words before we find ourselves cleaning up from a similar attack in the U.S.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at the conservative media’s hypocritical response to the attacks and Breivik’s claim that he’s Christian.
In the weeks since the terrorist attacks in Norway, I’ve read a lot of articles and op-eds attempting to flesh out their implications and identify the tensions that led to them. Though the attacks were truly horrific, they present us with a much-needed opportunity to discuss a topic that is too often ignored in the post-9/11 world: the rise of right wing and anti-Muslim extremism.
The discussion resulting from the attacks has brought up some points that I’d like to further develop. The discourse has also lacked in some respects, and I’d like to bring up some new thoughts for consideration as well.
In the next five posts, I’ll elaborate on the terminology of terrorism, Europe’s response to its increasing Muslim population, the role of American activists in shaping Islamophobia in Europe, FOX News’ hypocritical response to Breivik’s Christianty, and my optimism about the United States’ ability to avoid the widespread and entrenched prejudice—and now violence—we’ve seen in Europe.
Talking about terrorism
In reports from the New York Times, NPR, and other well-respected news organizations, we’ve heard the suspected perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, referred to as the ‘attacker’ or ‘killer’ and his actions as ‘violent extremism.’ These classifications are clearly true, but we must also acknowledge that Breivik is also a ‘terrorist’ and that his actions are ‘terrorism.’ Given the ease with which the media and political commentators today jump to label violent attacks as ‘terrorism,’ it might seem surprising that they were much more wary of using the same terminology for the Norway event.
Why not call this attack what it is? I think it’s because the word ‘terrorism’ has lost its original and intended meaning, and instead come to be understood as ‘violent Islamic extremism.’ I’d like to make the case as to why the Norway attacks are indeed terrorism, and why we must call it terrorism.
1) “premeditated, 2) politically- motivated 3) violence (or intimidation) 4) perpetrated against non-combatant targets 5) by subnational groups or clandestine agents”
For terrorists, high body counts are not their main concern. More concerned about symbolism, their highest priority is to instill fear and destroy values and ideas. Terrorism’s victims aren’t only those who die or are injured. As Georgetown scholar Bruce Hoffman says, “designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target.”
It’s easy to think about how the 9/11 attacks fit into this definition. So let’s look at the double Norway attacks to see how they fit the definition:
1) Breivik’s well-coordinated attack had been planning his attack for a long time—he even had a 1,500 page manifesto to “justify” it.
2) Concerned with the increased immigration of Muslims into Europe and his government’s failure to address the problem and willingness to submit to multiculturalism (his sentiment, not mine), he attacked a government building and a party camp for future political leaders.
3) After blowing up the building in downtown Oslo, he masqueraded as a police officer on Utoya island, offering comfort and safety before stalking through the woods and shore shooting teenagers. His attacks claimed over 70 lives.
4) His victims were ordinary citizens—government workers and politically active young people.
5) He carried this attack out on his own, secretly planning it without law enforcement’s knowledge.
This is a plea to the media (and ordinary citizens) for consistency—we must call these attacks ‘terrorism.’ Doing otherwise is dangerous because it makes us take these attacks less seriously than attacks committed by Muslim terrorists. No matter the ideology motivating them, terrorists and their actions should be treated with equal concern.
In my next post, I’ll talk about why Europe’s problem with Islamophobia is much bigger than in the U.S.